The original Space Moms?
It was on September 24, 2014 history was made when India became the first country in the world to put a spacecraft into Mars's orbit on the first try. When that year ended, Radha Bharadwaj, an Indian filmmaker in Hollywood, a screenwriter, director and producer, who had already made critically acclaimed films like 'Closet Land' and 'Basil' was already working on a feature film celebrating the women, who had played key roles in that mission. She says, "I wanted to celebrate not only ISRO and its astonishing women and men— but also our ancient Indian civilisation, which, I believe, led to this modern-day success."
Incidentally, a Bollywood film with top actors as its cast, 'Mission Mangal' was also being made and when US-based Radha Bharadwaj heard about it she felt cheated. She alleged that the makers of 'Mission Mangal' have stolen her script, which she, in 2016 itself, had discussed with producer Atul Kasbekar. She had filed a lawsuit against the makers.
'Mission Mangal' released in theatres, even while she continues to fight in the court of law. Meanwhile, the trailer of her film has been receiving appreciation for well-made film, endearing performances and a sincere effort. Radha Bharadwaj is currently gearing up to show her film across the globe in various film festivals. 'Space Moms' will be shown at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival next month.
Excerpts from an interview:
What attracted you to the subject of 'Space MOMs'?
I had written and directed two feature films starring well-known actors from Hollywood and the UK. But I was growing extremely upset at the consistently negative portrayals of India and Indian culture in Western media and entertainment. And for whatever reason, some in Indian media and entertainment often copied these contemptuous Western attitudes towards India and our culture.
While no country is perfect, India consistently gets defined by her perceived faults. I decided to do what I could to offer a positive take on India: 'Space MOMs' is the result. Regardless of what our religion or beliefs are, all Indians are heirs to a marvellous cultural legacy. I wanted my film, 'Space MOMs', to remind us of all that we share and unite us.
You have made other films, how different or same was your approach for this film?
Both 'Closet Land' and 'Basil' are darker films: the protagonist goes through a solitary dark night of the soul and emerges stronger as an individual.
In 'Space MOMs', on the other hand, the only true villains faced by the protagonists are the lack of time and the lack of money.
Those are the same villains I faced in making the film. 'Space MOMs', unlike my previous movies, is an ensemble piece. And it's not only about the space scientists. It's also the story of average Indians who came to follow the mission and were inspired by it. An auto driver who dreamed that his young daughter would have a better life, and a village schoolteacher who used the mission to motivate her schoolgirls. 'Space MOMs' is a hugely inspiring and heart-warming film.
You have an eclectic cast - can you let us know about the process?
I wanted to steer away from stars, although I have worked with big names in my prior films. I wanted India, Indian civilisation, and the Mangalyaan mission to be the stars. I have some very accomplished people in my cast, a Padma Shri winner, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, but no one who is a movie star in the commercial sense. The only stars in my movie are the ones in the sky that inspired the space scientists.
As a filmmaker how difficult it is to find a producer for your films, how was it for 'Space MOMs'?
I ended up producing the film with my husband and with Dileep Singh Rathore, whose company, 'On the Road India', was our co-production partner. My husband and I took a loan against our house to complete the funding for 'Space MOMs'. We were anxious to keep the Indian Pride and Girl Power messages intact.
We had originally been in discussions with a Bollywood company to produce the film, but our creative differences proved to be enormous. At the request of ISRO and the ISRO engineers that I had interviewed in my research, I used fictionalised composite characters in my script. But I believed I had a moral duty to stay true to the spirit of who these people really are. All of the ISRO women I interviewed have solid, Indian middle-class values and are proud of their culture. To present them as otherwise would have been a betrayal. The Bollywood company wanted me to invent elaborate fictional backstories for each character. But if you get too lost in the weeds with made-up details about made-up characters, you start losing sight of the original story. At some point, you can no longer claim that your film has anything to do with the true story of Mangalyaan.
It's fitting that I ended up making 'Space MOMs' as a scrappy, independent film. In that way, my film embodies the spirit of the Mangalyaan mission itself. ISRO proved that underfunded underdogs can triumph over impossible odds, and they have inspired me to believe 'Space MOMs', which is itself an underfunded underdog, can triumph as well.
If I had actually gone ahead and made 'Space MOMs' as a glossy, big-budget Bollywood star vehicle, it wouldn't have felt right. It would have been like Goliath masquerading as David. And it would've been a soulless corporate commodity with ill-fitting bits and bobs stitched together to attempt to appease various constituencies. I come from a place of respecting the real engineers – and the audience.
Why wasn't the film released?
The film has not yet been released. We are working on getting the film released. That is often a process for an independent film.
When did you learn that Bollywood was making a film? How did you deal with it?
I learned on November 5, 2018, that a big-budget Bollywood film on the women of Mangalyaan was in the works. I was just finishing up the shoot for 'Space MOMs' at the time. I brought a copyright infringement suit two weeks later, based on my script that was copyrighted in 2016. Since the case is still pending and the court has not yet compared the two screenplays, I'll refrain from saying anything about the lawsuit.
Do you think film directors today are dealing with women issues with sensitivity in the films?
A lot of folks talk the Girl Power talk, but 'Space MOMs' walked that talk. A woman-me-thought of the idea. The film's writer, director, producer and executive producer are all females, as is the production supervisor. The storylines in 'Space MOMs' are woman-centric and celebrate women. I've put my own money on the line to do this. I'm not jumping on the India Pride and Girl Power bandwagon because it's trendy—like a fashion accessory one wears and discards as trends shift.
What is your future course of action?
Work like the devil to get 'Space MOMs' seen and sold. And I'm also developing my film noir thriller—a project set in the US, with an unusual female lead: a middle-aged Indian woman.
Were you in Hyderabad for your film?
I lived a year in Hyderabad while making 'Space MOMs'. I have the best memories of your lovely city.